The Impact of the I Ching on Merce Cunningham and Deborah Hay

The I Ching, or the Book of Changes, is an ancient Chinese text––perhaps the first written document in human history––and was originally used exclusively as an oracle. Three thousand years old, the I Ching is one of the most revered books in Chinese literature, and it has inspired the most eminent Chinese scholars throughout history.

A free public talk given by Changxin Wei on 10/25/2012

About The Talk

There were three developmental waves of the I Ching in China, led by Fu Xi-Shi, Zhou Wen, and Confucius, respectively. Each contributed a layer of sophistication to the ancient text: first the trigram, then the hexagram, and finally Confucius’ deep interpretation.

Similarly, there were three surges of orientalism in the West: Orientalism, Neo-Orientalism, and Cultural-Orientalism. Each of these surges was a result of the West’s heightened accessibility to Eastern culture. Western artists associated with each wave reflect the “relative” understanding of Asian philosophy during their time. Ruth St. Denis scratched the surface of Eastern culture at the turn of the century after she came back from the Paris Exposition Universelle. In the Neo-Orientalism era, Merce Cunningham likely encountered the I Ching because the first English translation arrived in the U.S. in 1951. While most critics believe Cunningham worked with I Ching principles, I argue that he was only standing in the “doorway” of its philosophy. On the other hand, Deborah Hay was able to steep herself in the actual philosophy due to Cultural-Orientalism brought about by the discovery of the Ma-Wang-Tui texts, which increased the dissemination, accessibility, and understanding of the I Ching. As a result, the I Ching penetrated her very life, and informed her creative process.

Chengxin Wei graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy in 1997, where he studied classical Chinese dance for eleven years. He subsequently worked for three years as principal dancer of the Guangdong Provincial Dance Theatre. Hailed as a “powerhouse performer”(Georgia Straight), Chengxin also danced with Ballet British Columbia for six seasons. In 2004, Chengxin co-founded Moving Dragon, a contemporary dance company that focuses on cross-cultural fusion between Eastern and Western dance styles. In 2007, Chengxin was the recipient of Canada's Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award.  He is also the 2009 recipient of the David Leighton Arts Fellowship Award, administered by Canada's National Arts Centre. He holds MFA in Dance from the University of Washington, Seattle and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance at Ohio University where he teaches Modern, Ballet and Dance Composition. 

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Duration: 1:20:19

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012